I felt it is appropriate to write about my recent experience at Olive Garden (March 3, 2013). It was my first time there, and my expectation was very high. My brother and his girlfriend have been there many times, and every time when I hear about their experience, I hear only positive reviews. Well, I decided that it is time for me to visit this restaurant after spending about 9 years in the United States, and has only been to places like Chipotle, Noodles & Company, Subway, one Thai restaurant, a Korean BBQ, a Nepalese/Indian buffet (this one was actually good: don’t be too skeptical about buffet style food, it all depends on the place you go to).
Anyway, back to my experience at Olive Garden. I ordered a chicken soup with gnocchi and spinach to start off my first meal (and probably my last) at Olive Garden. I have made gnocchi from scratch at home, and I was pleased to taste the nutmeg in the ones in my soup. So I thought it might be a good sign, and the rest of the meal will go smoothly. I could not be more wrong about it. The next sip I took was quite horrible. The only seasoning that I could taste was salt. A hint of nutmeg and so much salt: I felt they dumped in a few spoons of salt (if not more) in that tiny bowl of soup. On top of that the breadsticks they served were salty too. SUCH A BAD COMBINATION!!! Why would someone prepare the gnocchi the right way, and then throw so much salt in a dish that no one can really pick up any real flavors. Later when I started writing up my experience at Olive Garden, I decided to read some reviews about that particular restaurant I went to. I thought that maybe I am wrong, and that I am too unexperienced to distinguish good food from bad one. Once I started reading the reviews, I was amazed because I could totally relate my experience to others who have been there. Most of them went several times in order to fully understand that food served there is not even up to par. For me, however, the first time was sufficient to establish an opinion about the food.
Things started to get worse. My brother and his girlfriend ordered an appetizer – calamari bruschetta. I knew what a bruschetta was, and this plate just had minor resemblance to the original. The tomatoes with olive oil and spices (basil, garlic etc.) lacked the lemon juice. Instead, there was a slice of lemon on the plate. The calamari were coated in so much flour that no one could ever taste the actual calamari. I bet these were frozen calamari which were dropped in the fryer without even caring that they do not deliver in terms of flavor. Calamari which are done the proper way, should be fresh and marinated before frying; the original recipe for making the calamari bruschetta does not mention anything about coating them with flour before frying. I was just shocked to see such a traditional Italian antipasto prepared in such an awful way.
The appetizer was not the climax of my disappointment. I got my main course: penne di mare. Where should I start? Having penne pasta does not mean also having bits of fettuccine thrown in there just for fun. The bay scallops used for the dish were not cooked properly. The sauce was not white; instead, I got the pasta coated with this yellow looking greasy sauce which I guessed was simply melted butter. This was most definitely the “highest” point of my Sunday evening( and I am being sarcastic). I sometimes cook with butter at home but I would never have my pasta floating on top of a sea of melted butter. Not to mention that the spinach leaves were overcooked, covered in that greasy sauce as well, and quite bitter. Then I thought that maybe my dish was bad and trying out some of my brother’s main course will help me develop some positive impression about the food. Oh my God, I was disappointed for the fifth time this evening. His pork dish was just as bad as my penne di mare. At that point I wanted to scream. The meat was actually glazed with some sweet stuff , and overcooked. I told my brother that the meat was sweet, and his reply was that it was the wine that made it sweet. I put wine in some of my homemade meat dishes but the wine cannot make the meat so sweet. I felt someone has dropped the bottle with honey while cooking this pork dish. I also thought I should be able to cut right through it with ease. Not the case!!! The meat was chewy just like when you overcook it. I didn’t even ask my brother to let me taste the ravioli because at that point I was “done” with Olive Garden and their unlimited breadsticks, salad or “homemade” soup (there was nothing homemade about it).
Some may say that you get what you pay for. While this may be true, I noticed another injustice on the menu. There were two main dishes that contained the exact same ingredients but there was a solid difference in the price. Then, I thought about it for quite some time and came to the conclusion that people who order the more expensive dish will get the same dish as me. I guess they do not realize it because most of the time they do not read the fine print carefully. It is sufficient to say that people are blinded by the amount of food brought to them without even realizing it that this same food can be prepared at home for a lot less money using fresh ingredients. Believe me, the food quality will be 100 times better than the one you get at Olive Garden, the pseudo-Italian restaurant.
After this experience I swear I will most definitely not go back to eat at Olive Garden.